Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

December 15, 2008

Xavier Breezes, Gonzaga Sneezes

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:59 am

Xavier now stands at 9-0 after Saturday night’s 76-66 win at crosstown rival Cincinnati. True, it hasn’t been a cakewalk to 9-0–see for example the OT win on a neutral floor against a Virginia Tech team that now stands at 6-4–and therein, perhaps, looms a lesson. The Musketeers project to be a team that will win without exactly blowing worthy opponents off the floor, due to an offense that thus far is only fair and that relies heavily (and, to date, successfully) on free throws. At the same time it’s hard to envision Sean Miller‘s team being blown out by anyone, no matter how worthy, thanks to an outstanding defense.

Say one thing for these Musketeers, they certainly know how to get to the line. So far on the young season they’ve attempted no less than 319 free throws. Compare that to their 433 field-goal attempts and you’ll find that Miller’s team is shooting very nearly three free throws for every four shots from the field. Translation: this offense is better at scoring points than it is at pleasing your eyes. Xavier earns their freebies, of course, with a style that attacks the paint and probes for gaps and mismatches in the defense. Still, inevitably there will come a day when even that style isn’t awarded 35 free throws. For instance if you’re playing, oh, I don’t know, Duke this Saturday. When that day comes, turning the ball over on 23 percent of your possessions, as has Xavier this year, will be a much more damaging proposition.

That being said, Derrick Brown is off to a really nice start. While carrying as much of the load on offense as the more perimeter-oriented B.J. Raymond, Brown functions as a true inside-outside threat, having made 57 percent of his twos and 42 percent of his threes. And, of course, Brown gets to the line quite often.

He’s also part of an excellent defense, one that defends the paint without relying on a single spectacular shot-blocker staying out of foul trouble. (Make no mistake, freshman seven-footer Kenny Frease can swat away some shots. Alas, the young lad is a work in progress on offense and his minutes are limited accordingly.) The Musketeers’ opponents this year have scored just 0.87 points per trip, a stellar number built in large part on an almost Memphis-like ability to block shots without fouling. Miller and his team will have a wonderful opportunity to showcase all of the above against the Blue Devils this weekend in East Rutherford, N.J.

A wonderful opportunity was all Arizona needed on Sunday evening to announce to the hoops world: Yes, we know we’ve provided some rollicking good soap opera of late, but we’re still here. The Wildcats took down previously undefeated Gonzaga 69-64 in Phoenix.

The ‘Cats boldly went where no team has gone before against the Bulldogs this season: across the point-per-trip barrier, recording their 69 points in a 64-possession game. Other opponents have hit seven threes against Mark Few‘s team but on this day Arizona needed just 10 attempts to do so. That, and a plus-10 advantage in free throw attempts, was enough for a win in which interim coach Russ Pennell‘s team did most of its damage in the game’s first 30 minutes. The Wildcats’ Nic Wise was just 5-of-14 from the field but he was 4-of-6 on his threes, while teammate Jordan Hill scored 22. Arizona is not deep but give credit where it’s due: they played a marvelous and wholly fearless game.

Meanwhile the Zags’ Josh Heytvelt, Jeremy Pargo, and Micah Downs were a combined 5-of-22. Austin Daye had a weird looking line: 22 points and five blocks but only three boards in 36 minutes unblighted by foul trouble. The weirdness was rooted in Daye’s defensive assignment. Few had the foul-prone sophomore guarding the utterly benign Jamelle Horne–and Horne stayed busy setting screens out top, far from the glass

Just last week I was elevating Gonzaga to potential second-fiddle status behind North Carolina. Their body of work is still outstanding, and indeed the Bulldogs could still assume that role this season. But theirs is a unique situation in terms of lobbying for the best seed in the NCAA tournament. Like Memphis, whom they’ll play in Spokane on February 7, Gonzaga has to earn more of their style points outside the conference season than does your garden variety high-seed from the “power” conference. Playing Connecticut would of course be huge for any team, but for the Bulldogs this Saturday’s game in Seattle against the Huskies looms especially large. The same can be said of the Zags’ appointment with Tennessee in Knoxville on January 7 and their aforementioned game against the Tigers. Gonzaga only gets so many bites at the impress-the-committee apple.  

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress